'My nerves are ruining our competitive chances' – how to be competition confident

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If your legs turn to jelly the minute you enter an arena at a competition, you’re far from alone. Even top-level riders get the same jelly legs and mind in a muddle.

Rider confidence coach Sue Gould-Wright explains how you can stop your fears spiralling out of control.

There’s a particular part of the brain causing these reactions — the amygdala. This is where the memories of everything that’s caused worry, fear, anxiety and danger are stored. Understanding that means that you can regain control when ‘she’ starts to take over.

When the amygdala gets a trigger (a thought, a smell, an object) it sets off an emergency response to get you out of danger fast. It triggers the release of adrenaline, which is where the jelly legs, racing heart, muddled mind and sweaty palms come from.

Sadly, we can’t go in there and clear it all out, nor understand why things like a set of jumps or a dressage test can set it off. Lets call that little worried voice in your head Amy (amygdala is a tricky word to remember after all), and imagine her as a small shouty child who is having a tantrum for no reason.

Dealing with Amy

The minute you start to feel apprehensive, or get that voice in your head telling you you’re doomed, try quickly shouting “AMY!” A split-second response like this can help to halt the spiral of worried thoughts and physical reactions from getting out of control.

Then you need to consider how you might pacify Amy. What is it you’re worried about? By doing this, you are overriding the amygdala with the more powerful neocortex (you'r sophisticated, thinking brain) and you’ll find you can stay calmer.

You can also do the same thing if you’re aware of physical changes, like the jelly legs. Rather than worry that your legs are wobbling, begin to explore the feeling. This again helps the thinking brain to override the emotional one. This will take practice, but the results will come.

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